portraits for music

I’ve been posting a lot of impromptu street photography lately, so I wanted to share with you one of my actual photo projects.  A few months ago, I had the privilege of working with some friends who were working on a musical project.  These two sisters asked me to take some portraits to accompany their music, so we spent a few hours roaming around a few of the more interesting locations around Seattle.

location, location, etc.

Choosing locations actually proved to be a bit of a challenge.  I prefer shooting with natural light (no flashes), but the wind was whipping sheets of rain around Seattle on the day of our shoot.  So I needed to find places that would be shielded from the elements, but also let in plenty of that natural sunlight.  Also, since I wanted to focus on just the sisters for their project, I had to avoid locations with a lot of other people.  Seattle’s Volunteer Park provided two ideal options: the old water tower, which has enough windows for a 360˚ view of the Seattle area, and the Conservatory, which is essentially an indoor garden.

Our third location, the I-5 Colonnade, is a mountain bike park that was constructed underneath a raised section of the interstate.  With its vast open spaces covered by 13 lanes of interstate, it was exactly what we needed to get the outdoor feel with indoor dryness.  And while the rainy weather restricted our location choice, it kept the crowds to a minimum and gave us the moody, even portrait lighting that I was hoping for.

technically speaking

I decided to stick with the Canon 50mm f/1.4 for the entire shoot.  Even though my other lens has higher-quality glass elements, the focal length of the 50mm and its depth of field make it an ideal portrait lens – I rarely use anything else for portraits.  Besides, you can’t really do a moody photo shoot without quality bokeh (depth of field blur).  With most lenses, you lose a little bit of sharpness when the aperture is wide open (the lowest f-stop value), so I shot most of these photos at f/2.0.  I was able to get better sharpness than at f/1.4 and still maintain a shallow depth of field with some nice bokeh in the background.

For some of the close-up shots, I stopped down to f/4.0 in order to get more of the face in focus.  Stopping down for close-ups was a somewhat recent discovery for me (I’m sure this is common knowledge for portrait photographers).  I used to keep my 50mm lens locked at f/1.4 for maximum shutter speed and because I went through a bokeh obsession phase, which is common among photographers (almost a right of passage).  But with close-up shots, that extremely shallow depth of field often results in sharp focus on one facial feature and a slight undesirable blur everywhere else on the face.  This kind of focus isn’t bad if I was trying to draw attention a particular facial feature, like the eyes, but otherwise it looks pretty sloppy and unflattering.

finishing touches

To edit these photos, I used Lightroom 4 to apply a variety of VSCO Film filters (variations of Kodak TRI-X 400, Kodak Portra 800, Kodak E100G, Fuji 160c, and Fuji HP5).  We weren’t going for one particular look in this photo shoot, so I experimented with a wide range of filters that all complimented the feeling that the sisters were going for.  Plus, VSCO makes a lot of awesome filters, and it’s kind of hard to choose just one.

I had a great time working on this project with these sisters – they were naturals in front of the camera and I really enjoyed coming up with photos ideas with them.  It was a great opportunity to collaborate with others, practice taking portraits, and hang out with friends in a new context.  I’ll be looking for more collaborative opportunities like this one, and in the mean time, I will probably have more portraits coming up in the next month or two.



  1. Great use of the scenery and locations. Indeed, creative poses for the portraits. Also agree with using natural lighting instead of flash as much as possible. While flash does assist in cleaning certain things up, there’s a mood and sense of emotion that is brought without utilizing it, and it shows in the above selection of photographs. Really great work here!

  2. How can one not adore the 50mm f/1.4 for portrait photography?! Totally agree with you. I use Nikon gear but speaking of lenses there is nearly no difference anyway. However, great portraits! I enjoyed them! Take care and thanks for stopping by on my blog!

  3. великолепно Ⓥ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★Ⓥ нет слов Ⓕ

  4. Lindas fotos! De muita sensibilidade! Um abraço do Brasil!

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